The holiday season may be over, but the men’s hockey team is still in a giving mood.
The Bulldogs (8-8-0, 7-5-0 ECAC) handed out 12 goals — a number of them soft — to their ECAC and Ivy opponents this weekend, falling 6-4 to Brown (7-6-2, 7-5-1 ECAC) Saturday evening in Rhode Island after losing to No. 13 Harvard (12-6-1, 11-3-0 ECAC) 6-2 in Cambridge Friday night.
The weekend highlighted the holes in Yale’s defense and raised questions about the consistency of the team’s goaltending.
“When you give up 12 goals on a weekend you’re not going to win hockey games,” said head coach Tim Taylor, who earned his 300th victory over Christmas break in the Bulldogs’ lone win against Bowling Green (5-13-2). “We just have to get better defensively.”
Saturday’s loss to Brown was all the more painful in light of the fact that the Bulldogs squandered two-goal leads on two separate occasions. The Elis scored goals less than a minute apart midway through the first period, with center Ryan Steeves ’04 putting back a rebound from winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 and Jeff Hristovski ’06 skating from behind the net and tucking the puck past Brown goaltender Yann Danis.
Those two goals brought Yale to the brink of breaking the game wide open, but poor defensive positioning by the Elis allowed Brown to come back on the strength of goals just 46 seconds apart.
After Jason Wilson pushed the puck through traffic and into the back of the net, Les Haggett scored his first of two when he slipped the puck through goalie Peter Cohen’s ’05 five-hole.
“I think we had some defensive lapses,” captain Denis Nam ’03 said. “We had guys covered to a point but then we didn’t finish the play.”
Center Chris Higgins ’05, in his second game back from representing the United States at the World Junior Championships, helped the Bulldogs recapture the lead when he seemingly knocked the puck off a Brown player and past Danis.
A pretty pass from winger Evan Wax ’03 and a prettier finish by Hellemeyer gave the Elis another power-play goal and their second two-goal lead of the night at 5-3, but a one-timer from Hagget 30 seconds later cut the Yale lead in half.
After defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 was called for an away-from-the-play holding penalty, Brown’s Brent Robinson converted on the ensuing power play to tie the game at four.
“He’s played some great hockey for us,” Brown head coach Roger Grillo said. “He’s been snakebitten lately but he came up big for us tonight.”
Several minutes later was the turning point of the game. The Bears were called for three consecutive penalties, giving Yale a 5-on-3 for over a minute and a half that turned into a 6-on-3 for nearly 45 seconds on a delayed penalty. But the Bulldogs were unable to score on any of the penalties, giving Brown a mental boost.
“That was huge,” Robinson said of the successful penalty kills. “That probably won us the game tonight because it gave us a lot of confidence. But Yale’s very strong up front so we knew we needed some more goals to finish it off.”
Robinson did just that, scoring the eventual game winner on a power-play goal when he was left open by Yale defenders in front of the crease.
For Cohen, the goal represented the 11th he had given up in two games.
“A lot of those goals are second chances that hit off a guy’s shinpad or stick,” said Nam, who recorded an assist on the Hristovski goal and blocked a number of Brown shots on the penalty kill. “That’s not Cohen’s fault, we’ve got to tie those guys up. We’ve got to work on boxing out.”
With the Bulldogs trailing by one goal entering the third, Taylor opted to pull Cohen for rookie netminder Josh Gartner ’06, who earned ECAC Goalie of the Week laurels for his 44-save performance in Yale’s victory over Bowling Green on Dec. 28.
“It’s a tough spot to put Josh in, but he plays well in those situations,” Nam said.
Unfortunately for Gartner, he was tested just 24 seconds into the frame when Brown’s Chris Legg took a shot that hit Gartner and slowly rolled over the goal line to give Brown a two-goal lead that they did not relinquish.
“Our guys aren’t quitters,” said Brown coach Roger Grillo, whose team is now in sole possession of second place in the conference. “They never have been and they never will be. The game was up and down and up and down then boom, they were up 2-0. But we never gave up.”
A night earlier, Yale entered Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center having won only one contest in the building since it opened in 1979. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they would not get their second win that night.
The Crimson jumped out to an early 3-0 lead at the end of the first period. Captain Dominic Moore started the scoring with an unassisted wrist shot, and Tim Pettit extended the Cantab lead with a shot off a faceoff from the top of the circles that went through Cohen’s legs. With under a minute to go in the first, Harvard’s Tyler Kolarik grabbed the puck in front of the net and beat a sprawling Cohen.
“We were horrible in the first period,” Taylor said. “I just asked them to step up a little and play like men.”
The Bulldogs played their way back into the game with an impressive offensive performance in the second period in which they came inches away from earning a 3-3 tie. After Jeff Hristovski’s one-timer went glove-side of Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris to make the game 3-1, Higgins finished off a superb Yale possession with a wrist shot from the left side that went over Grumet-Morris’ shoulder to cut Harvard’s lead to 3-2.
The Elis’ momentum continued to build, as their forecheck became nearly impenetrable and their shots came more frequently, but a strong shot by Steeves, which appeared to be en route to tying the game, clanged off the far post just before the end of the second period.
“I think you have to give the opponent credit for that,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “They earned their chances. That’s what we did in the first period.”
Unfortunately, Yale could not sustain the momentum, and an early period penalty put them back on the defensive. After killing off one penalty, defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 got called for a cross-check and the Cantabs scored a backbreaking goal on the ensuing power play.
“It was a really lucky goal, it went off the post and hit my stick,” said Harvard’s Tom Cavanaugh, who scored the goal. “One of the things we wanted to do in the third was jump out early.”
Yale seemed to deflate after that score, and Harvard took advantage of the opening and got goals by defenseman Noah Welch and Pettit to blow open the lead and take the game.
“When they got the fourth goal, that made the hill much steeper,” Taylor said
The losses dropped the Bulldogs to third in the ECAC, where they are tied with Cornell (12-3-0, 7-1-0 ECAC) at 14 points apiece. Cornell, however, has four games at hand. With the losses to Brown and Harvard, the Bulldogs have dropped five of their last six games. Over break, the Elis traveled to No. 7 Minnesota (12-6-5) for the Dodge Holiday Classic, in which they fell to the Gophers 7-3 before beating Bowling Green, 5-1. Center Ryan Steeves scored twice and Gartner stopped 44 shots in the effort.
“Josh’s performance was outstanding,” Taylor said. “I think he really won that game for us.”
On Jan. 2, the Bulldogs played No. 5 New Hampshire (14-4-2), trailing only 2-0 at the start of the third period before allowing the Wildcats to break open the game with three third-period scores. New Hampshire goalie Mike Avers recorded the shutout and Yale was unable to connect on any of its six power plays.
With a road trip to the Midwest to face the University of Notre Dame (9-9-4), the Bulldogs need to revamp their defense and figure out their goaltending situation if they are to get back on track.
“We had our moments in all the games,” Taylor said. “But our ability to put together 60 solid minutes of defensive hockey is our problem.”